By George Demetriou
Under the NCAA DH rule, the pitcher is not considered to be a defensive position for substitution purposes (7-2b Note). But regardless of the level of play, a pitcher with fielding skills can be a very important asset to a team.
Certain rules treat the pitcher as a unique player — the pitcher. Others treat the pitcher as a fielder. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.
Pickoffs. Perhaps the most elementary distinction between the two roles of the pitcher is the pickoff attempt. A throw by the pitcher from a pitching position, while on the rubber, that passes over a fence or into the stands or other dead-ball area results in a one-base award. It does not matter if the ball goes directly out of play or is deflected by a fielder (NFHS 8-3-3d; NCAA 8-3k; pro 7.05h). The award also applies if the ball is pitched.
However, if the pitcher disengages the rubber before attempting to pick off a runner, he has acted as an infielder. If his throw goes into dead-ball territory, the runner is awarded two bases — the same as if the throw was made by any other infielder (NFHS 8-3-5b; NCAA 8-3o AR 1; pro 7.05g).
Interference by a runner with a batted ball. Under that rule, the pitcher is treated both as a pitcher and as an infielder. If a runner is hit by a fair batted ball that has touched an infielder (pitcher included) before it touches the runner, there is no interference. The ball remains live and the subsequent play stands.
However, if the runner is hit by a fair batted ball before having passed an infielder other than the pitcher, interference is called. The runner is out and the batter is awarded first base (NFHS 8-4-2k; NCAA 6-1i, 6-2f AR, 8-2f, 8-2g; pro 7.09m).
Play 1: With R1 on first, B5 hits a sharp grounder that deflects off F1’s leg and hits R1 between first and second. Ruling 1: The ball remains live and in play. Unless R1 intentionally interferes, he is not out for being hit by a deflected ball.
Play 2: R1 and R2 are moving on the pitch when B7 dribbles one slowly past the pitcher. As R1 begins his slide into second, the batted ball hits him. At the time R1 is hit, R2 has already touched third. Ruling 2: Since R1 was hit by a batted ball, he is out for interference. The ball passed F1 but did not touch him. B1 remains on first and is credited with a base hit. In NFHS, R2 keeps third; runners are returned to the base occupied at the time of interference (8-2-9). In NCAA and pro, R2 is returned to second; no runner can advance (NCAA 2-50 AR 2, 6-2e, 8-5k; pro 7.08f).
Obstruction. Although it is rare, a pitcher can commit obstruction. When the pitcher obstructs the batter-runner before reaching first base, the base awards depend on the ball the batter hit. If the batter hits a line drive to the infield or a fly ball anywhere and the ball is caught, the obstruction is ignored and the play stands. If the batter hits a ground ball, the obstruction is relevant and the penalty is a minimum award of first base in all codes.
Intentionally dropped ball. The pitcher is treated as an infielder when he intentionally drops a ball. The rule is designed to prevent an undeserved double play. With less than two out and at least a runner on first (first; first and second; first and third, or bases loaded), the ball is dead when it is intentionally dropped and runners return to the base occupied at the time of the pitch (NFHS 8-4-1c; NCAA 7-11q; pro 6.05L).
Play 3: With runners on first and second and one out, B1 bunts the ball. F1 catches the ball in flight, deliberately drops it and then fires to the shortstop covering third. The throw is wild, and the ball rolls into left field. Before it is returned to the infield, R2 has scored, R1 is on third and B1 has taken second. Ruling 3: The ball is immediately dead when F1 intentionally drops it. B1 is out and the runners return.
Play 4: With a runner on first and one out, B1 bunts the ball in the air. F1 yells, “I got it,” and as the ball is about to fall into his glove, he separates his hands and lets the ball fall to the ground untouched. He immediately retrieves the ball and fires to second to start a double play. Ruling 4: That is a legal play because F1 did not touch the ball until after it hit the ground. Thus he did not “drop” it.
Infield fly. The pitcher is also treated as an infielder for purposes of the infield fly rule. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play are considered infielders for the purpose of the rule.
George Demetriou, a resident of Colorado Springs, is a veteran high school umpire and the current NFHS rule interpreter for the state of Colorado.